The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration recently met with a focus on what was termed America's agricultural labor crisis.
National Milk Producers Federation spokesperson Chris Galen says even in this time of high unemployment, dairy farmers and other ag producers are having a tough time finding American workers.
"We actually did a study a couple years ago with Texas A&M where we sent out a survey to several thousand dairy farmers and we found that around 41% of the labor force on these farms was foreign born," Galen said. "A significant number did not have proper documentation, that's a problem and it's true not just for dairy but for fruit and vegetables and meat packing and a lot of other things you have across the country. I think the issue is that people, even if they may not have steady work, this is work that a lot of people don't want to do, so that's what we really need to address with labor policy."
NMPF is in favor of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act introduced by seven U.S. Senators earlier this year. Galen says it would address dairy farm workforce needs by extending the H-2A visa program to the dairy industry.
"If you are a fruit and vegetable operator or someone who needs workers to do a seasonal harvest, like in the fall you can use the H-2A visa program," Galen said. "However because dairy farm is not considered seasonal work, it's not it's 24-7-365, you can't use the H-2A visa program. So we have been supporting legislation that would create a carve out or an inclusion in the h-2A visa program for dairy farmers."
Because immigration is a touchy issue, Galen says that may be a long, drawn-out fight.
Another effort. this one in the House, would impose mandatory E-Verify for all businesses in the U.S. The bill was passed by the House Judiciary Committee earlier this week. Galen says NMPF has concerns.
"The E-Verify databases really aren't up to snuff," Galen said. "And that's something that we're very concerned about because anything that is just enforcement only that goes after employers without giving them the opportunity to have a legal documented workforce is going to be bad for jobs, and bad for dairy farms and other employers at precisely the wrong time in our economy."
In response to those concerns, NMPF joined several ag groups in a letter to the House leadership seeking inclusion of a workable, efficient worker program that encompasses all of U.S. agriculture.